The 27th May to 2nd June is National Map Reading Week, created by the Ordnance Survey to promote maps, mapping and all things to do with space! There has been a great selection of coverage across the internet – one of my favourite was a ‘map-folding’ competition featuring the Calder Valley Mountain Rescue Team, setting the bar at 8.16 seconds!
When we say ‘maps’ people are often talking about the paper based product, I would argue that reading a digital map is as an equally important skill. Navigation is always something that has been vital to humans, and now that we travel further than ever before, knowing where we are going is vital!
For on-phone sat nav, Google Maps may be the go-to choice for many and works very well. It certainly works well for me in the car when required! However, for public transport in London in my opinion, you can’t beat CityMapper. It gives you a huge range of flexibility of different methods (walk, bike, public transport) and also gives you costs which is very handy. They also have a good sense of humour, showing how many calories a walk or cycle will use up and how many cupcakes that is!
This is also a nice excuse to mention two other map related things: bed cartography for a) humans and b) cats!
Finally, just to say this is a great time to get out there (with or without a map) and enjoy the scenery!
GISRUK is the annual GIS Research
conference in the UK which showcases the latest in GIS (Geographical
Information Science) and Geomatics Research from the UK and across Europe. I
attended the 4-day conference at Newcastle University and it
was amazing to see the latest developments from across the geospatial
One of the key themes for me that emerged from the conference
was the debate between whether spatial data is ‘special’ or is it data just
another data type, one among many? For many years when GIS was a niche area
requiring specialist skills to use, there was a clear argument that spatial was
special. Now the bar of entry to using spatial data is much lower, through the
use of tools such as Google Earth, Tableau and even ArcGIS Pro, which means
many more people can get the benefit of using spatial data and analysis.
Spatial data is another tool in the toolbox of analysts, which allow us to be
solution architects (solving problems) rather than geo-engineers (tinkering
with projections and file formats). I don’t think we are yet at the point where
using spatial data is as easy as using an Excel table, but we are so much
closer than we were even just 5 or 10 years ago. The traditional desktop GIS
package (ArcGIS / QGIS) is no longer the only way of working with spatial data:
advanced users have more data science orientated solutions such as Python or R,
and non-technical users can get great maps from Tableau. In fact James
Bowles found many organisations in the third sector (charities and
NGOs) use Tableau to do data analysis (including spatial analysis) rather than
using tools like ArcGIS.
Spatial data is becoming more widely accessible, with many
users in the third sector choosing Tableau for their spatial analysis, over
traditional desktop GIS such as ArcGIS or QGIS.
One of the regular features of the GISRUK Conference Series
is a key focus on Early Career Researchers, those students who are currently
studying MScs or PhDs. About 60% of them will go straight to work in industry
after their studies, so this is a great opportunity for them to find out more
about working in industry. Both junior staff and senior consultants came in from
explain what ARUP do and why the students’ skills are vital in industry. One of
the big areas of growth is the combination of remote sensing and machine
learning; these skills are very sort after by industry and there are some very
exciting developments in the earth observation field. Machine learning and AI (artificial
intelligence) are gaining a lot of coverage, both in terms of how and where we
use them, but also from the point of view of ‘how do we use AI ethically?’, and
‘what new questions do we have to think about when we are using AI & ML?’.
One of the keynote speakers, Prof. Renee Sieber
talked about the importance of public participation in what she termed ‘GeoAI’
(AI applied in a geospatial setting) and the fact that the fact that AI is not
unbiased at all; it reflects our societal biases and we need to be careful when
The use of spatial data is fundamental to all of the work
presented at GISRUK, and availability of data is often not as clear cut as it
really should be. In the panel discussion on ‘How will
the opening up of geospatial data help the GIS community?‘ one of
the key elements that was discussed was data infrastructure. The provision of
metadata is often quite important in terms of being able to select suitable
data for specific projects, and if we are to further develop automated data
process (including data selection) then comprehensive metadata is key to much
of this, and currently fairly lacking. Dr Gobe Hobona,
from the Open Geospatial Consortium, demonstrated how the OGC have been
instrumental in developing a range of standards that are key to the interchange
of spatial data between different software and organisations, including the
provision of metadata. Gobe also mentioned the developments of UAVs, both as
tools for spatial data collection but also as transformative decides in
geospatial interoperability, allowing access to more and more varied data
sources. They are also very cool, such as the spectacular swarms of UAVs we saw
at the recent Beijing
UAVs were mentioned across many different themes in the
conference, including for data capture, combination with AI (to identify cracks
in road surfaces) to impact on birdlife in wildlife reserves. They are clearly now
entering a phase where they are part of a wider toolbox, rather than a novelty
in themselves, and so are maturing into a new data source and product. There
was also a very interesting presentation by Kevin Minors on
crowd management, including techniques for modelling the crowd as a whole from
a series of static data points, which has a wide application in highly variable
crowds, such as railway stations.
Overall this was a great conference with a fascinating insight into the cutting edge of research in spatial data and GIS. Next year GISRUK is at UCL and Birkbeck, University of London, April 21st to 24th – see you there!
I recently ran my ‘Introduction to Spatial Data & Using R as a GIS’ course for the NCRM at the University of Southampton. This was the first time after I had updated the material from using the SP library to using the new SF library. The SF (or Simple Features) library is a big change in how R handles spatial data.
Back in the ‘old days’, we used a package called SP to manage spatial data in R. It was initially developed in 2005, and was a very well-developed package that supported practically all GIS analysis. If you have worked with spatial data in R and used the syntax variable@data to refer to the attribute table of the spatial data, then you have used the SP package. The SP package worked well, but wasn’t 100% compatible with the R data frame, so when joining data (using merge() or match()) you had to be quite careful, and we usually joined the table of data to the variable@data element. For those in the know, it used S4 data types (something I discovered when I generated lots of error messages whilst trying to do some analysis!)
The SF library is relatively new (released Oct 2016) and uses the OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) defined standard of Simple Features (which is also an ISO standard). This is a standardised way of recording and structuring spatial data, used by nearly every piece of software that handles spatial data. Using SF also allows us to work with the tidyverse series of packages which have become very popular, driven by growth in data science. Previously, tidyverse expected spatial data to be a data frame, which the SP data formats were not, and often created some interesting error messages!
The Geospatial Training Solutions ‘Introduction to R’ course is very well established, and I have delivered it 14 times to 219 students! However, it was due for a bit of a re-write, so I took the opportunity of moving from SP to SF to do restructure some of the material. I also changed from using the base R plot commands to using the tmap library. As a result, it is now much easier to get a map from R. In fact, one of the participants from my recent NCRM course in Southampton said:
“It was so quick to create a map in R, I thought it would be harder.”
Participant on Introduction to Spatial Data & Using R as a GIS, 27th March 2019, University of Southampton
They were blown away by how easy it was to create a map in R. With SF and tmap, you can get a map out in 2 lines (anything staring with # is a comment):
LSOA <- st_read("england_lsoa_2011.shp") #read the shapefile qtm(LSOA) #plot the map
You can also get a nice looking finished map with customised colours and classification very easily:
tm_shape(LSOA) + tm_polygons("Age00to04", title = "Aged 0 to 4", palette = "Greens", style = "jenks") + tm_layout(legend.title.size = 0.8)
However, unfortunately not all spatial analysis is yet supported in SF. This will come with time, as the functions develop and more features are added. In the practical I get the participants to do some Point in Polygon analysis, where they overlay some crime points (from data.police.uk/data) with some LSOA boundaries. I couldn’t find out how to do a working point in polygon analysis* using this data and the SF library, so I kept my existing SP code to do this. This was also a useful pedagogical (teaching) opportunity to explain about SF and SP, as students are likely to come across both types of code!
*I know theoretically it should be possible to do a point-in-polygon with SF (there aremanyposts) but I failed to get my data to work with this. I need to have more of an experiment to see if I can get it working – if you would like to have a try with my data, please do!
The next course I am running is in Glasgow on 12th – 14th June where we will cover Introduction to Spatial Data & Using R as a GIS, alongside a range of other material over 3 days. Find out more info or sign up.
I spent a great couple of days up in Liverpool, attending the North West Digital Research Methods Festival at the University of Liverpool. It was great to be back in Liverpool and catch-up with colleagues and friends from my post-doc days there in 2013-16. The city has changed quite a bit, and my old office now overlooks a major building site instead of a green park!
The conference looked at Digital Methods from a broad social science point of view. It was great to spend some time thinking about digital methods from a different perspective. Key to all digital methods are longevity and there were lots of discussions about how data resources are made available to scholars in the long term; including decisions made to simplify a website interface to ensure it will remain working for longer with limited support.
It also made me think about how we process data. Warren Pearce presented on social media data and was critiquing the fact that we often focus on the text content of messages, and ignore the visual elements. This is missing out on a key element of the conversation (think of any social media content you have recently looked at) and the visual elements should be included in the analysis. My initial thought was that this was a technological hangover, with text being much easier to process than visual. However, I learnt that there is also a cultural element with text based information being seen as much more valuable than pictorial information. Warren also highlighted a fascinating visualization of the front pages of the New York Times, highlighting how it had changed from just text to a mixture of text and black & white images, then to text & colour images. Warren’s recent paper on the topic is at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369118X.2018.1486871
There were a whole range of presentations looking the digital research and digital data, from a wide range of different perspectives. These included using physical objects to encourage interaction and engagement in a museum environment, to considering the best ways of increasing accessibility of digital archives such as photo libraries of African Rock Art or historical criminal life courses. Have a look at https://twitter.com/hashtag/nwdrm for Tweets from the conference.
The second day consisted of a series of practical workshops, which included one run by me on GIS. I was pitching GIS as a great digital method and I think I may have converted some people!
I would really recommend that everyone considers attending conferences outside of your usual ‘academic sphere’ – you never know what you are going to see, what ideas might be sparked off, or what future contacts & employers you could be meeting!
The British Cartographic Society have updated their classic book ‘Cartography: An Introduction’, developing the first edition from 2007. This book is a great overview of key cartographic concepts, covering everything from colour and symbology to fonts and the finer points of kerning. The book is accessible and a very valuable resource to anyone involved with cartography and looking to make better maps.
The book is split into easily accessible sections, starting with the basics (What is a map?), developing on the key theories (projections, datums and coordinate systems), and applying these in a variety of settings (thematic mapping, symbology, page layout and many
others). Everything you might expect to be there is present, including scale, generalisation, colour, text and font usage.
There is also a discussion of different types of maps (choropleth, dot maps, isolines and a whole range of others) with a great repertoire of selections. I particularly like the mapping examples they provide within each section, where they show a variety of great designs, as well as demonstrating how a poorly designed map can be improved. This allows us to see why a particular design is bad, and what we can do to improve it. Even the often forgotten and ignored modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP) gets a mention, reminding us to be careful with
The book is packed with useful tips and rules of thumb (“If you use more than 12 colours on a map, it becomes very hard to interpret” and “Labels on coastlines or the edges of large lakes look better if they are places out at sea. Try not to straddle the land/water boundary”). I was slightly surprised not to see more on Colour Vision Deficiency (colour blindness), with the rule of thumb I have often used: avoid using different shades of red and green on a map (as red-green CVD is the most common form).
Many cartography books are often either explicitly software specific, or clearly show the influences of one specific piece of GIS software. This book manages to be software independent, although the legends will look familiar to regular ESRI users! The concepts are written in a way where they can be applied to the map making process in any software or medium. The book finishes with a list of key tips or things to check if you have 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 50 minutes to finalise your design.This pulls out the key aspects and accepts that sometimes we don’t have enough time to spend on the design as we would like.
‘Cartography: An Introduction’ is available at a very reasonable £12.99 from the BCS and it is a book I would recommend to anyone creating and designing maps on a regular basis.
During the amazingly sunny weather a few weeks ago, I managed to spend a couple of days indoors, hiding from the sun at the ESRC Research Methods Festival at the University of Bath. Every 2 years, the National Centre for Research Methods have organised this conference to showcase unique and new methods from across the social sciences. The conference covered everything from ‘Multi-scale measures of segregation data’ and ‘Quantitative methods pedagogy’ to ‘Do participatory visual methods give ‘voice’?’ and ‘Comics as a research method’.
It was also fantastic to meet a range of academics and researchers who I would not normally meet. I met a number of people who I had communicated regularly with on Twitter, but never met in person before!
I was presenting in a session on ‘Multiscale measures of segregation data‘, where we were discussing different approaches to how deprivation can be measured across different locations. One of the major characteristics of grouped spatial data is the MAUP (Modifiable Areal Unit Problem), where the method used to group your data will have an impact on the results of any analysis. The session was a great collection of presentations, all of us looking at similar issues but often taking quite different methods to approach them.
I showed how using variograms based on the PopChange data set to look at spatial segregation can help avoid some of the impacts of imposing scales on the data, and instead use the data to tell us at what scales the variations are taking place.
Across the whole conference there was a range of content using scripting languages, and R and Python featured significantly across the board, to the surprise of some of the participants, including me:
Till next time, Bath! What a fantastic time I had at #RMF18! The academia has pleasantly surprised me with plenty of work done using Python, R and C++. pic.twitter.com/838zvCtSGt
Like most conferences, there were so many interesting sessions and it was often difficult to choose which track to attend! The keynotes were all thought provoking. Danny Dorling presented a range of interesting information on current levels of inequality in the UK, and warned us that it is likely to get worse before it gets better. Donna Mertens called on all of us to think about how our research can change things, and if it doesn’t, why not?
It was a great methods conference, and reminded me about how many different methods are out there. If you would like a chat about how using GIS could help with your research or work, please do give me a call on 01209 808910 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this week I have a very nice couple of sunny days in London attending a training course and a conference. It’s a nice change to attend a course (rather than delivering one!) and is also a great opportunity to add to my CPD log (particularly important for my Chartered Geographer status with RGS-IBG).
Some of my transport around London!
On the Monday I attended a half-day workshop on Linked Data, organised by Dr Claire Ellul at UCL and run by Bart De Lathouwer from the Open Geospatial Consortium. I’d come across the term linked data in various different situations, but hadn’t really done much with it, and this was a great opportunity to learn about it. The key bit about linked data is that it is solely formed from triples, sets of three, in the form “subject, predicate, object” such as “The pool – is – blue” or “student – name – value”. It also is a fundamentally different way of structuring data from a “traditional” relational database and so avoids many of the limitations, but also requires a completely different way of thinking about the data. This is quite a jump from what we are used to, and I think it will take a little while for linked data to properly take off. This is a good resource (http://www.opengeospatial.org/blog/1673) for some information on how OGC are working with Linked Data.
Queen Elizabeth II Centre, home for ESRI Annual Conference
On Tuesday it was ESRI UK’s Annual Conference, based at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre near Parliament. It was a great conference, with a massive range of examples of how ESRI’s various different products could be used. There were some great examples of using Strava data to help Jersey understand cycle route usage across the island; using this data to identify and remove bottlenecks in their infrastructure. We also had a presentation on how City Engine was used by Disney to help them develop the city behind the film Zootropolis (2016), allowing them flexibility to create and tweak a whole city design with limited time and resources.
A good turn out for the conference!
Unsurprisingly a significant chunk of content was on conversion from ArcMap to ArcGIS Pro, their new flagship product. There is a big focus around users having an identity and using this to both access local and remote resources for ArcGIS Pro (including, no doubt, an element of licensing). There was also a reasonably strong theme about pushing out GIS to non-GIS users, and making it easy to use for new-comers, particularly with the development of ArcGIS Pro which, for example, automatically includes a base map when you start a new project. Possibly not ground-breaking for regular users of GIS, but a big help to someone coming to GIS cold – now they have a map they can add their data to, rather than just a big blank space (when you start ArcMap).
If you would like a chat about getting more from your GIS (ESRI or other packages!), or GIS Training for small groups, please do email email@example.com or give me a call on 01209 808910.
Last week I attended an amazingly sunny GISRUK (Geographic Information Science Research UK) conference in Leicester. I have fond memories of Leicester, as I completed my BSc Geography (2003-2006) and MSc GIS (2007 – 2008) there. Much of the university and city has changed, but an amazing amount is still the same – both in the Bennett building lecture theatres and certain well frequented take-aways!
University of Leicester – Attenborough Tower (L) and Charles Wilson Building (R)
I coordinated the Early Career workshops, where those early in their GIS careers (including, but not limited to, PhD and MSc students) came together for two half-day sessions to find out more about GIS as a career in academia and industry, to learn more and compare notes about their respective PhD/MSc experiences, and most importantly, to get to know each other before the main conference! We had a great variety of input from James Norris (Ordnance Survey / Group on Earth Observations / AGI), James Kendall (RGS), Dave Unwin (ex University of Leicester & Birkbeck), May Yuan (Editor-in-Cheif IJGIS, University of Texas at Dallas), Addy Popy (ESRI UK) and Katie Hall (ESRI UK).
Early Careers session in full flow
The main conference had a great selection of talks and presentations covering every application of GIS from archaeology, to crime, health, transport, and urban studies! It is always a challenge to work out which of the three parallel sessions to attend, and I can’t attend everything. Particularly of note for me was Alex Singleton’s keynote on ‘Why Open Data are Not Enough’, discussing some of the issues with open spatial data, particularly in terms of data longevity which very much reminds me of this XKCD comic, and still really hasn’t been solved for spatial data. This was rather well illustrated by the CDRC Data Store that has been developed through the Consumer Data Research Centre; there is no mechanism for ensuring this continues after the CDRC funding finishes, and this is the norm with many academic projects.
Alex Singleton: Why Open data are Not Enough
There was also a great presentation by Sam Cockings looking at how we can better model day time populations, from a variety of data sources. Integrating many real time data sources is going to be a key aspect of spatial data management in the future and I can see many projects using the skills and technologies Sam described.
Next year GISRUK 2019 will be in Newcastle University, and I look forward to seeing you there!
After 6 months or so of collaboration FOSS4G UK 2018 finally happened! I was a small part of the dedicated team who brought the conference together and it was an amazing experience. Thanks to James (@JamesLMilner), Tom (@tomchadwin), Isabel (@IsaUlitzsch), Sam (@SamRFranklin), Max (@GeospatialMax) and Dennis (@goldrydigital) as well as Jo Cook and Steve Feldman who gave us occasional nudges in the right direction with their experience from FOSS4GUK 2016 Southampton. Organising the conference felt a bit like organising a wedding(!) in that once we had picked the date, location, catering and sorted out the guest list, the rest more-or-less fell into place! Not that I intend to do either again in the near future!
Unfortunately I wasn’t around for the team photo on Friday, but I was there in spirit!
The conference itself went amazingly well and it was great to see so many people there who were so enthusiastic about open source geospatial software. Unfortunately I was only able to attend Thursday, but I managed to take part in some great workshops on pgRouting and Satellite Data, learn some new things, make some new contacts and baby sit the room-to-room live feed!
It was a struggle to work out which stream to attend and I’ve seen from Twitter (#FOSS4GUK) that Tom Armitage went to town with the ‘May the FOSS be with you’ Star Wars theme, the highlight being a presentation using a light sabre rather than a laser pointer:
We will post links to all the slides and material we can on the website – if yours are not there yet, send them over or submit a PR. I do hope we can do this again, and if people would like to volunteer for the next conference, please make yourself known!
If you’d like a chat about potential for OS Geo training for individuals or groups, please do send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call on 07717745715.
Over three days in January, Nick ran a series of one day GIS training sessions for the ADRC-E at the University of Southampton. The courses covered a whole range of GIS skills including understanding spatial data, finding GIS data, working with QGIS & R, and spatial analysis in GeoDa & R. The course participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds including PhD students; academics; health; economics; business intelligence and national statistics.
As well as plotting data on a map, the courses also covered more advanced spatial analysis, looking at buffers, spatial overlays, spatial decision making and spatial statistics. This allowed participants to get the most from their spatial data and use it in their future work.
GIS is a fantastic tool and something that can be applied in many different settings. Nick’s up-to-date knowledge and experience provides course attendees with the know-how needed to evaluate their own data, to create maps and perform the analysis within their workplace.
Photo credit: ADRC-E
“I enjoyed the focus on practical exercises – very useful! Excellent content for intro course.” course attendee, Introduction to QGIS: Understanding and Presenting Spatial Data, 15th January 2018.
We run courses across the UK, our training page provides details of our upcoming courses. If one-to-one GIS training would be useful for you or members of staff in your organisation, please have a look at our brochure or get in touch to find out more about our tailored courses for all skill levels.